Introduction—John Joseph Adams

“It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.” Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I met Hugh Howey at the World Science Fiction Convention in 2012. He was a fan of my post-apocalyptic anthology Wastelands, and I was a fan of his post-apocalyptic novel Wool. Around that time, I was toying with the notion of editing collaborative anthologies to help my books reach new audiences. So given our shared love of all things apocalyptic—and how well we hit it off in person—I suggested that Hugh and I co-edit an anthology of post-apocalyptic fiction. Obviously, since his name is on the cover beside mine, Hugh said yes.

As I began researching titles for the book, I came across the phrase “The End is Nigh”—that ubiquitous, ominous proclamation shouted by sandwich-board-wearing doomsday prophets. At first, I discarded it; after all, you can’t very well call an anthology of post-apocalyptic fiction The End is Nigh—in post-apocalyptic fiction the end isn’t nigh, it’s already happened!

But what about an anthology that explored life before the apocalypse? Plenty of anthologies deal with the apocalypse in some form or another, but I couldn’t think of a single one that focused on the events leading up to the world’s destruction. And what could be more full of drama and excitement than stories where the characters can actually see the end of the world coming?

At this point I felt like I was really onto something. But while I love apocalyptic fiction in general, my real love has always been post-apocalypse fiction in particular, so I was loathe to give up on my idea of doing an anthology specifically focused on that.

That’s when it hit me.

What if, instead of just editing a single anthology, we published a series of anthologies, each exploring a different facet of the apocalypse?

And so The Apocalypse Triptych was born. Volume one, The End is Nigh, contains stories that take place just before the apocalypse. Volume two, The End is Now, will focus on stories that take place during the apocalypse. And volume three, The End Has Come, will feature stories that explore life after the apocalypse.

But we were not content to merely assemble a triptych of anthologies; we also wanted story triptychs as well. So when we recruited authors for this project, we encouraged them to consider writing not just one story for us, but one story for each volume, and connecting them so that the reader gets a series of mini-triptychs within The Apocalypse Triptych. Not everyone could commit to writing stories for all three volumes, but the vast majority of our authors did, so most of the stories that appear in this volume will also have sequels or companion stories in volumes two and three. Each story will stand on its own merits, but if you read all three volumes, the idea is that your reading experience will be greater than the sum of its parts.

In traditional publishing, this kind of wild idea—publishing not just a single anthology, but a trio of anthologies with interconnected stories—would be all but impossible, so it was just as well that Hugh and I had already decided to self-publish. But the notion that this was something that traditional publishing wouldn’t—or couldn’t—do made the experiment even more compelling, and made working on this project even more exciting.

Post-apocalyptic fiction is about worlds that have already burned. Apocalyptic fiction is about worlds that are burning.

The End is Nigh is about the match.